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Just How Racist Are You, Anyway?

By Rick Hess — March 08, 2010 4 min read
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I was inclined to tag this post, “How intellectual conformity stifles ‘diverse’ thinking.” But that seemed a bit long-winded.

Anyway, here’s the deal. The Politics of Education Association has decided on a theme for its special Education Politics Series issue of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Journal of Education. The theme? “Post-Racialism in the K-12 and Higher Education Arenas: The Politics of Education in the Obama Administration Era.” An interesting topic--though the editors quickly try to fix that.

Editors Enrique Aleman, Andrea Rorrer, and Laurence Parker laboriously seek to explain the special issue’s purpose (as only three jargon-besotted academics can). They write:

“As the nation’s electorate has been praised by some for ‘not seeing color’ for their support of the first President of color, discussions of systemic and institutionalized racism and subsequent inequities have been displaced by claims of a new ‘post-racial’ society...In the study of educational politics, race, and inequity, we are acutely aware of how political discourse and subsequent research and policies are framed by elected officials, political commentators, and intellectuals in the public sphere. Consequently, here we seek to recast our gaze upon power, privilege, policy, and values in the educational process and seek to center discussions of race and contextualization of educational research with this historic election in mind.”

(As an aside, it’s hard to believe this prose isn’t ripped from an overwrought teen’s Marxist blog. And there’s much more, to boot. But I digress).

As best I can tell, this means Aleman et al. are eager to focus on issues of race and the “contextualization of educational research” (whatever that is exactly) in light of the 2008 election. Well, okay. Fair enough. And no real surprise given the track records of the editors. Aleman, for instance, is a faculty fellow at the Center for Critical Race Studies at the University of Utah, teaches “Latina/os and Educational Policy,” and has coauthored a piece entitled, “Negotiating and contesting transnational and transgenerational Latina/o cultural citizenship: Kindergarteners, their parents, and university students in Utah.” Rorrer is a professor of education at the University of Utah and editor of an earlier special journal on “Power, Education, and the Politics of Social Justice.” Parker is a professor of education at the University of Illinois who employs “critical race theory” and has penned articles such as “Hiding the politically obvious: A critical race theory preview of diversity as racial neutrality in higher education.”

Anyway, once we’ve waded past the painful language, the journal seems like a natural and interesting opportunity to debate how much race still matters in the age of Obama, to examine research on its educational significance, and to assess the merits and problems of desegregation strategies or race-based accountability systems.

Oh, how wrong that would be. In the hands of Professors Aleman, Rorrer, and Parker, the issue is a cattle call solely for those authors committed to uncovering ever more insidious forms of (hidden) racism. What kind of papers are these probing scholars soliciting? The questions contributors are asked to address include:
- “How is race and racism manifested in educational settings in the U.S. and how has a ‘post-racial’ agenda provided avenues or barriers to educational equity and equal educational opportunities?”
- “How do the values and assumptions that underlie education today maintain inequities?”
- “How have these concepts of racism manifested themselves through the politics of education in terms of some wealthy communities using their political influence and tax base to develop good jobs, schools and services through privatization without the use of legal racial barriers?”
- and, of course, “How does individual self-interest in a global economy that is in a recession have political implications for racism in terms of a greater overall tolerance of race, but increasing hostility to it when it comes to competition for scarce jobs, housing, admissions to universities, and reactions to racial groups seeking these resources for ‘their kids too?’”

Anybody out there want to take a stab at what will happen to a scholar who pens a piece that doesn’t start from a presumption that cognition, policy, and practice are indelibly racist? Or that offers a less than conspiratorial take on U.S. schooling or “privatization”? I’ll venture a guess: they will be rejected out of hand. Mind you, the editors would tell any who asked that this did not reflect bias or an assault on free inquiry; it would simply reflect the failure of authors to conform to the criteria for the special issue of an influential journal. Such is the invidious, largely invisible, groupthink that promotes narrow orthodoxy under the guise of academic routine.

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.